Home Capital Program 2015-2019 NYT: ‘Where’s the capital money, Lebowski?’

NYT: ‘Where’s the capital money, Lebowski?’

by Benjamin Kabak

Regular readers of this site have long cast a skeptical eye toward Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his distain for transit. His ideas — an AirTrain to LaGuardia via Willets Point — come out of nowhere and don’t align with transit needs or best practices. He’s thrown weight and tax dollars behind the stridently anti-transit QueensWay while ignoring the voices arguing for rail reactivation, and he’s done nothing to address the MTA’s $15.2 billion capital budget hole.

New York City, meanwhile, is sagging under the weight of record high subway riders. Yesterday, the MTA reported a total of 29 days in 2014 with over 6 million riders, and delays due to aging infrastructure — signal problems, rail conditions — seem rampant. That’s what the $15.2 billion is designed to address. While Cuomo is running away from, or at least ignoring, the problem, other groups such as the Move NY are thinking about the funding and traffic problems. It all might come to a head at some point.

My tiny corner of the Internet isn’t the only part taking note of the politicking though, and in yesterday’s Times, the paper’s editorial board called upon the Governor to, well, do something about it:

The state and city would seem obvious sources for much of this support. Mr. Cuomo, however, rejected the M.T.A. plan as “bloated” soon after it was submitted, even as some mass transit advocates regarded it as barely adequate. The governor’s latest budget gives the M.T.A. about $1.15 billion for these big projects over five years. Mayor Bill de Blasio has offered only $40 million a year as the city’s contribution, far lower than the usual $100 million.

These responses seem miserly when measured against the needs of a system that is already stuffed with passengers and expects at least one million more in the next 10 years. The requirements go beyond new cars; the M.T.A. proposes to replace more than 80 miles of track and a subway signaling system that is more than a half-century old and needs a $3 billion upgrade.

In the end, it is Mr. Cuomo who will have the most to say about whether this vital network thrives or deteriorates. He should help create a five-year capital plan that gives the M.T.A. some confidence about how to expand and maintain itself while he also finds the matching funds that upstate legislators will inevitably demand for bridges and roads in their constituencies. A short-term fix of a year or two is little more than a Band-Aid.

The Times highlights Move NY’s traffic pricing plan and a proposal by Richard Ravitch to raise the gas taxes. Either could address the funding gap, but so too, as the paper points out, would fare hikes, the last gasp for the MTA and a measure it can implement as it so chooses. As The Times notes, if the MTA is forced to “fall back on fare increases … those increases would have Mr. Cuomo’s name on them.” Best we not forget that.

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60 comments

SEAN February 24, 2015 - 9:25 am

The transit network is one of the iconic symbols of New York – the city & the entire region wouldn’t be the same without it. I read somewhere that if all of the transit users drove, there would need to be parking equal to the size of Manhattan to house all the cars.

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Bolwerk February 24, 2015 - 11:35 am

Maybe the ikon should be replaced with a bus stuck in traffic. Even half of transit advocates seem to want that.

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SEAN February 24, 2015 - 1:14 pm

And why is that Bolwerk? I know you have the answer – you always do!

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Fbfree February 24, 2015 - 1:27 pm

Parking is just the half of it. The required bridges and road space would be massive.

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adirondacker12800 February 24, 2015 - 3:39 pm

They’ve been coming up with “only rail has the capacity and it’s the cheapest option” since the 50s. Nobody wants to spend the money.

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Bolwerk February 24, 2015 - 4:39 pm

If you want more capacity, it is the cheapest option.

And you can’t say it’s the amount that bothers anybody. The speaker of the City Council recently announced a plan to hire a thousand more cops. What is that, $500M/year in employment costs alone? To begin!

Put that in perspective: the city could easily finance the Second Avenue Subway, the whole fucking thing, with that amount. Actually, it might even be able to build it out of pocket with that amount spent every year, no debt required.

I don’t hear the debt scolds complaining.

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adirondacker12800 February 24, 2015 - 4:57 pm

…while the crime rate is going down…

Bolwerk February 24, 2015 - 5:53 pm

Oh, wait, I miscalculated. It’s more like $100M in employment costs, not $500M.

Still easily enough to finance any one of most most proposed outer borough rail projects. Not to mention double the city’s capital contribution.

Larry Littlefield February 24, 2015 - 9:33 pm

It’s $212 million with pension costs and retiree health care.

And that really ticked me off too. We should be going from 2.8 times the U.S. average number of police officers relative to population down to 2.0 times the average. Not going up.

adirondacker12800 February 24, 2015 - 9:36 pm

and a big chunk of it is automobile enforcement. New York probably isn’t as bad as other places between traffic enforcement officiers and not enforcing things but lots of what the police department does is handle automobile problems….

Nathanael February 25, 2015 - 10:35 am

Reducing the number of cops seems to do wonders for the crime rate in NYC. What’s wrong with the head of the city council….

…and who’s running against him or her? Like the corrupt DAs who refuse to prosecute vehicular manslaughter, this is a case for turfing the politicians out.

Bolwerk February 25, 2015 - 11:19 am

Her name is Melissa Mark-Viverito, and she’s a close ally of de Blasio. She seems sycophantic to special interest groups like the PBA, but not corrupt. Not to my knowledge anyway; maybe someone knows better than me. Surprisingly de Blasio actually didn’t want to increase the size of the police force, and she did.

I don’t know how term limits work out now, but I think she can run one more time. Voters re-approved the term limits (when Cuomo was elected?). I think the way it worked was you can run twice more from that point on, which means she was allowed to run in 2013 and will be allowed to run in 2017.

So, conceivably, she could be with us a very long time before she has to play musical chairs and find another way to plague the citizenry.

AG February 25, 2015 - 10:20 pm

“Her name is Melissa Mark-Viverito, and she’s a close ally of de Blasio. She seems sycophantic to special interest groups like the PBA, but not corrupt.”

Well aside from hiding (or “forgetting”) rental income she earns…

Can’t remember if she was in on the deal (“contributions”) for those people lobbying to get the real estate the horse stables on the West Side exist on..

Bolwerk February 26, 2015 - 1:10 pm

Yeah, I thought about that, but I don’t recall her actually using her office to her advantage in that.

lop February 24, 2015 - 10:18 pm

? Cops don’t make 500k/officer.

Larry Littlefield February 25, 2015 - 8:48 am

The average officer in the pension plan cost $212,000 in wages and benefits in 2011, and far more today.

That’s what you get with a 20 and out pension with far more retired officers than officers working, unlimited retiree health insurance with no cost control, extensive disability fraud in the past, etc.

Or course what the union believes we deserve in return is based the $25,000 in cash pay that many officers now working had as a starting salary.

LLQBTT February 24, 2015 - 9:34 am

The subway system needs to grow and expand. All our ‘leaders’ go on and on about NYC the greatest city, or NYC as a tourist destination and so on and so on. And of course NYC is a huge economic engine to the U.S. and world.

But when it comes to providing support for something as critical as transit, they are AWOL. All we get are 1/2 baked solutions such as the B44 SBS.

We have muddled along this way since the Pataki/Guiliani years.

It’s time for a change, once and for all.

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AG February 24, 2015 - 10:00 am

I don’t dispute what you say… But the Guiliani/Pataki years were vastly better for transit that the previous 2 decades. The city and state were dead broke.

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Larry Littlefield February 24, 2015 - 10:11 am

All on borrowed money.

If we were paying then what we are ALREADY paying not, with NO new MTA funds, then there would be no budget crisis because there would be very little debt.

The MTA’s dedicated revenues are already sky high, but they are all sucked into the past by Generation Greed and its politicians. Including Pataki, Giuliani and Jim Brennan.

https://larrylittlefield.wordpress.com/2015/02/22/where-is-jim-brennan-hiding/

The Times had Brennan say the problem is a funding crisis. Our fault — we don’t pay enough. Why is there a funding crisis with record ridership, one fare and toll hike after another, and all those additional dedicated revenues (only some of which were diverted). The 1/8 cent extra sales tax. The 1/4 percent payroll tax. Etc.

No one wants to face those questions. Those under age 50 are best kept in the dark and told the ever higher costs or the decline of the system are “due to circumstances beyond our control.”

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Justin Samuels February 24, 2015 - 11:20 am

It’s how local government function in general. They do not save money. They issue bonds for new projects and back them with future revenues.

The MTA will fill the holes in their capital budget if they have to sell bonds and pay them off by raising fares. Which clearly will not be too popular among the public.

So ultimately Albany will have to pass congestion pricing, raise gas taxes, or even the sales tax to fund transit expansion. There is no getting around it. Neither Cuomo nor de Blasio will want to be seen as responsible for a transit system collapse due to poor maintenance or massively higher fares due to inadequate city and state contributions.

Meanwhile transit lobbyists clearly will continue to lobby. The overall budget has to be passed by April, so the MTA Capital budget will get addressed this year.

As for Cuomo, he didn’t specifically call the MTA budget bloated. He said whenever agencies request funding from Albany that they always request more than they need and that he would need to vet the budget before he can fully address it.

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Larry Littlefield February 24, 2015 - 12:05 pm

“Neither Cuomo nor de Blasio will want to be seen as responsible for a transit system collapse due to poor maintenance or massively higher fares due to inadequate city and state contributions.”

It didn’t bother all the Mayors, Governors and legislators before them. The question is, how long until the consequences can be deferred? Until Generation Greed is in Florida or the grave and you have President Cuomo and Senator DeBlasio? In that case, it doesn’t matter.

So the adoption of the city and state budget — three and six months after the (last?) MTA capital plan expired — is the real deadline. We’ll see.

Bolwerk February 24, 2015 - 12:31 pm

For decades, probably. A $34.1 billion debt load probably represents an outlay of a billion or so a year at present interest rates. Relatively trivial for NYS. It could be compounded for years.

No doubt this refusal to pay for anything is wasting money, and is stupid, but there is no reason to think it can’t be prolonged for a very long time.

lop February 24, 2015 - 10:25 pm

Debt service is 2.445 billion out of 14.275 billion in 2015 operating budget,

Bolwerk February 25, 2015 - 12:15 am

Whatever it is (I was going by this from the ever-theatrical Straphangers), the point is they can probably blow it up a lot by paying less of it down and/or borrowing more. Or the state could make them do that, but the end result is more or less the same.

Woe unto us, the MTA’s legal borrowing limit apparently is considerably higher than that.

SEAN February 24, 2015 - 1:23 pm

So ultimately Albany will have to pass congestion pricing, raise gas taxes, or even the sales tax to fund transit expansion. There is no getting around it.

No there isn’t & the truth will need to be recognized at some point

Neither Cuomo nor de Blasio will want to be seen as responsible for a transit system collapse due to poor maintenance or massively higher fares due to inadequate city and state contributions.

Translation… tax & spend liberals destroying NYC, blah, blah, blah.

adirondacker12800 February 24, 2015 - 3:30 pm

why not income tax? How about property tax? One of the reasons the property is worth so much is that there’s a subway.

SEAN February 24, 2015 - 6:59 pm

Income tax – within NYC or the entire MTA region in NYS.

Property tax – same question as above.

How about an increase of both plus a small bump in the sales tax.

adirondacker12800 February 24, 2015 - 7:59 pm

Why not on the whole state? Make those upstaters who love to sit around and whine about their tax money being frittered away on people in New York City actually pay for the services they get from the state?

Nathanael February 25, 2015 - 10:40 am

We (upstate) already have the highest property tax rates of any comparable (semi-rural) area in the nation.

And we get pretty much jack-all for those property taxes, because they’re used to fund Medicaid, which is a state responsibility everywhere else. Last I checked, well over 50% of “local taxes” go to *state mandates*. The rest goes to fire protection and road maintenance (which the state would happily allow us to abandon, *because it’s crazy*).

Have I mentioned that the state legislature really doesn’t like to do its job? The tax situation is pretty much nuts.

The correct thing to do is to raise the state income tax on the rich, and use the income to fund Medicaid out of the state budget. This would lift a vast pressure off of every single locality budget; NYC could use that to boost its transit service. Most of upstate would probably pay off debts with it, at this point.

Tower18 February 25, 2015 - 1:16 pm

Do you have a source that 50% of your property taxes go to Medicaid? As far as I can tell, looking at Westchester for example, at least 60% of property tax receipts go for funding school districts alone. Westchester spends more than double the national average, per student, on schools.

adirondacker12800 February 25, 2015 - 1:25 pm

Great big rivers of tax money flow upstate never to be seen again. Once you start whining about where your tax money goes to other people get to examine where their tax money goes. People upstate don’t want to have that conversation. Especially once they find out how much they are subsidized by people who don’t even live in New York.

Ralfff February 25, 2015 - 1:32 pm

Couple that with a crackdown on the massive Medicaid fraud problem with extremely harsh Rockefeller Law-style sentences that doubles as a jobs program for one lucky upstate prison town. Allow New York City to set its own property tax rules. Stop giving handouts to every single goddamn business to build anything even in thriving neighborhoods, benefiting only landlords (see the recent subsidized Williamsburg Vice Magazine relocation). Purge the Bronx judiciary and force them to clear the backlog of criminal cases that is wasting taxpayer money in jails for people who have been convicted of nothing and investigate the fired judges for criminal negligence.

There are all sorts of things that could and should be done but as long as the metro area is plagued by authoritarian pro-cop “liberals” who don’t know how to deal with problems other than calls for MORE POLICE and spending more (always more) of other people’s money on overcomplicated workarounds and litigation, nothing’s going to change in New York City, and while upstate may be receiving a net subsidy we are all victims of a cost structure that is out of control.

Nathanael February 25, 2015 - 10:54 pm

Tower18: OK, to be accurate, it’s
50% to school districts

50% to actual county/town governments, of which:
25% to Medicaid and other state mandates
25% to fire & roads (which the state would happily allow us to abandon)

The tax cap applies *separately* to the school districts and the governments, meaning that the governments are kind of screwed: basically the only things they can cut are road maintenance and fire departments. Not so great…

Nathanael February 25, 2015 - 10:56 pm

Adirondacker: the tax money which goes upstate doesn’t go to the majority of residents.

It runs through weird slush funds like the Dormitory Authority and Industrial Development Agencies and Empire Zones — basically, it goes to the well-connected.

I think most people upstate would be happy with a lot less of that and a lot more of actually being allowed to run our own county & town governments.

Nathanael February 25, 2015 - 10:57 pm

In short, in upstate, we’re not being subsidized, a small minority of elites is being subsidized.

Same as downstate, eh?

adirondacker12800 February 25, 2015 - 11:59 pm

Thanks I needed a good laugh. Someday I’ll go dig up the current report from the State Comptroller detailing how much money the leeches upstate suck out of metro New York. I’m not in the mood to go find it right now.
Whine loud enough, the people funding all your services might start to ask why so few people need so many itty bitty little tax districts and have you consolidate it all.

adirondacker12800 February 26, 2015 - 12:01 am

Yes it’s just awful the way the state and federal government scatter things like hospitals and colleges all over upstate that then get staffed by people who wouldn’t be able to find jobs otherwise.

Nathanael March 1, 2015 - 5:08 am

Think about it a little harder, adirondacker. The money is going to the *well-connected*. The people in the *not-well-connected* towns get jack.

This is a recipe for unhappy taxpayers.

Nathanael March 1, 2015 - 5:11 am

For example, all the prison money goes to a very small number of municipalities. The rest of the upstate municipalities get *nothing* out of it.

So we have scattered “low-tax enclaves”.

And THAT is why there are so many little taxing districts — it’s in order to preserve these low-tax enclaves, without everyone else noticing.

By the way, the number of taxing districts per acre is exponentially higher on Long Island, because it’s got more corruption.

I happen to live in a place with a high degree of consolidation in administration. Nassau County actually has *boards* with *salaries* for lighting districts!

AG March 1, 2015 - 8:32 am

NY State is actually one of the few states that are actually closing prisons now… Which is a good thing. In the boroughs where the economy is rapidly producing jobs – surplus land (prisons and otherwise) is being bought and used rapidly.

http://www.nydailynews.com/new.....-1.1619048

http://rew-online.com/2015/02/.....the-bronx/

http://www.crainsnewyork.com/a.....ison-buyer

Upstate is a different picture.
Stupidly though – casinos are supposed to be a replacement. So criminals have been leaving the state – but now they want to hook people on gambling…

Nathanael March 1, 2015 - 5:12 am

Oh, and you wanna know who’s well-connected upstate? Start paying attention to the powerbrokers in the State Senate, and who they favor. 😛

AG February 24, 2015 - 12:53 pm

Ok – but how does that go against the comment I wrote…? Fact is the state and city were dead broke and couldn’t do anything. Most of what is going on is playing catch up to where we should have been if there weren’t 2 lost decades in the transit system.

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Nathanael February 25, 2015 - 10:42 am

The state was never broke, not even after Nelson Rockefeller’s wild spending spree. The city did actually go bust after John Lindsay was unable to rein in the out-of-control unions (who had decided to be hostile to him on principle, not because he’d actually done anything to them).

Bolwerk February 24, 2015 - 12:17 pm

Eh? I’m not exactly sure how this perfectly translates to NYC, which remained and remains under the thumb of a financial control board, but the early 1980s to early 1990s were a pretty recession-free decade for the USA. NYC itself saw a surge of foreign investment during that time in the wake of deindustrialization. Thanks to the control board, the city had limited say in its finances. At least for the nonce Reagan’s policies were relatively good for Wall Street (which was more NYC-centric then than now!). That might well be what emboldened M. Cuomo to actually start investing in the transit system again.

An actual recession hit in 1990 or so. However, economic ennui lasted until 1994 or 1995. It toppled Bush Sr., obviously. In the long run, it hit the Dems worse: Dinkins (1993), Cuomo (1994), Congress (1994), several other governorships (IIRC VA and NJ 1993, most others 1994). Had the electoral schedule or business cycle been different, NYC might well have been spared the Pataki’s and Giuliani’s contemptuous incompetence.

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Chris C February 24, 2015 - 11:45 am

This is what I’d be saying to the Governor

You say the plan is bloated so tell me where you think the bloat is.

What specific projects would you cancel?

What specific projects would you reduce in scope?

What are you doing to reduce costs?

I’d also tell him that his airtrain plan is nothing but bloat and low down on any list of trasportation priorities.

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JoeInMI February 24, 2015 - 11:51 am

*Tongue firmly in cheek* So, what’s the problem? Government should run more like businesses, so model the MTA after the airline and auto businesses. Borrow as much as you can, use it to pay for long term capital projects, then when the debt load is crushing declare bankruptcy, dissolve the MTA, transfer the assets to a new quasi-governmental organization, dump the pensions off onto the PBGC, have a judge throw out the union contracts and institute new ones.
Plan to rinse and repeat every 40 years.

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Larry Littlefield February 24, 2015 - 12:51 pm

Remove tongue from cheek.

It is only when younger generation at least threaten not to honor the debts older generations have shifted to them that the shifting will come to an end.

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Tower18 February 24, 2015 - 11:58 am

I dispute the conclusion that the general public would think to blame Cuomo for the next fare increase. That is, essentially, the entire point of the MTA: deflect responsibility from government when convenient, government takes credit when convenient.

The NY Times might be blaming Cuomo, but no one else will.

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Larry Littlefield February 24, 2015 - 12:07 pm

Nor should they. Not alone.

He should get his share of the blame, along with all the other politicians and their predecessors.

But who were all those politicians benefitting? That’s the next question.

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al February 24, 2015 - 5:14 pm

Cuomo is benefiting, as he “appears” to be a competent liberal leader, but is really an underwhelming executive. He just wants to get through with a few real accomplishments as Governor, and keep things from collapsing under his watch.

He wants to avoid needing to do what Koch and Carey pulled off in the late 70’s and 80’s to pull NYC and TA back from the brink.

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Peter February 24, 2015 - 6:20 pm

Cuomo is terrified of congestion pricing being used against him on the national stage. The attack ads aren’t hard to imagine — “As Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo passed a TAX on freedom-loving drivers to use THEIR OWN ROADS! Then he turned around and gave the money to POOR PEOPLE who ride SUBWAYS to work!”

Think about how that message could play with voters in the rest of the country, who drive everywhere and don’t understand the unique role of NYC’s transportation system. You’re never going to explain to them why congestion pricing makes sense. The one part they’ll understand and remember is “Cuomo taxed roads.”

From a cynical political viewpoint, it makes little sense for Cuomo to get behind a plan that puts his near-term career at risk, but whose benefits accrue only gradually. The only way to change that calculus is to make him pay a political cost now in opposing it, but given the lack of vocal support among other NY leaders and seeming public indifference, that doesn’t seem likely.

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Larry Littlefield February 24, 2015 - 9:36 pm

I’m hoping and praying that Cuomo doesn’t run for President, so he doesn’t have to do stupid things and sell out NY to local interest groups to get national backing.

Bloomberg, Pataki, Lindsay, Rockefeller, McCall, Giuliani — all ran up debts and agreed to unfunded pension increases when considering running for President/Senator. Debts and pension increases that are killing us.

The Christie Presidential thing is a disaster for NJ.

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Bolwerk February 24, 2015 - 11:20 pm

I would have thought him formidable a year or two ago. Now I don’t think so. He might have a shot in 2020 if the Dems lose in 2016 and the field is open. But if they don’t lose, he’s stuck sitting in the governor’s mansion waiting until 2024 for an opening. He’s too low-key and brooding to be a master mummer like Reagan or Bush, and he has little Obama-esque charisma to make up for that shortcoming. He must know he can’t beat Hillary on personality and experience, and he’s too ideologically similar to be taken seriously as an alternative.

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Eric February 25, 2015 - 12:55 pm

Hillary has personality?

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Nathanael February 25, 2015 - 10:45 am

Cuomo is, unfortunately, stupid. I suspect lead poisoning as a child from fooling around with cars which used leaded gasoline.

He has no chance at actually winning the Presidency. I kind of hope he runs for President just so that he quits his job as governor; if he doesn’t run, he may embed himself as governor for as long as possible, which would be disastrous.

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chemster February 25, 2015 - 11:17 am

Cuomo is already running for president. Why else did he go to Afghanistan during a the election? It wasn’t because of the large Afghani vote in NY state.

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Rob February 24, 2015 - 8:05 pm

I was looking over the proposed capital plan. One thing kind of caught my eye:

Replace 46 elevators and 35 escalators – $436m

It seems like each unit– just for replacement (not for creating new station entrances or new access points, simply replacing already installed units) is $5.3m.

This isn’t something I’m an expert on, and maybe this is perfectly reasonable. Upon googling, it suggests that an escalator installation might be 150k or so, but there may be other factors that account for the additional 5 million dollars per escalator.

It isn’t a huge amount in the grand scheme of things, but a small example of something that seems to cost the mta far more than it should, and it doesn’t seem like something that would require a lot of design or contingency costs.

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Nathanael February 25, 2015 - 10:47 am

None of the escalators or elevators are standardized. 🙁 Because they’re all custom jobs (due to the weird spaces they’re in), it escalates the prices dramatically. Worse, they are from many different manufacturers so even parts which could be standard are not.

Some effort should be made during future elevator retrofits to have an elevator design which is *as standard as possible*.

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Duke February 24, 2015 - 8:24 pm

In terms of controlling costs, there is a very simple thing the state could do that would work wonders for that: change state law about government contracts so that rather than contractors collecting T&M regardless of how long it takes, they have a deadline and have to pay penalties if they don’t meet it. Watch the incidence rate of projects being massively late and over budget drop like a brick.

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JJ March 22, 2015 - 8:37 am


Cuomo’s no friend of NYC .
. . His contempt of the middle class is legendary

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